NAHA, OKINAWA, Japan The first member of the Church to hold national office in Japan, Keiko Itokazu, seemed to personify her tropical islands the night she won the election by wearing a crown of white flowers in her hair.
Okinawa is the largest island in the Okinawa Island chain. The prefecture (regional governmental district) capital is Naha City. Prior to her election, she served three terms in the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, for a total of 12 years.
Sister Itokazu was elected in July to the House of Councilors in the National Diet (Congress) of Japan, and won by a landslide. It was such a resounding victory that NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) announced her election five minutes after the polls closed. The victory became readily apparent by way of the exit polls.
Her election was remarkable for several reasons: She is new to national politics. She ran as a non-partisan. She is a woman.
"I want to be the peace guide of the Diet," stated Sister Itokazu.
After graduating from high school, she worked many years as a bus-tour guide. She showed visitors around the large Okinawa Peace Park, which lies on the battleground of one of the most famous battles of World War II. She knows well the story.
The Battle of Okinawa was the last large-scale battle of World War II. Almost everything on the island was destroyed. More civilians died than military. Because of the devastation, Okinawa, like Hiroshima, has come to symbolize peace.
Speaking recently in the Naha Ward, Naha Japan Stake, she said that 13 years ago, when she joined the Church, her life changed a great deal. At that time, someone suggested that she run for the Prefecture Assembly. She ran and won.
"Heavenly Father prepared the way for me." she said. She added, "I never intended to be a political person, but looking back on my life, I feel that God wants us to realize our individual strengths."
Sister Itokazu is considered a wise and cheerful person who has the ability to draw people to her.
Speaking of her family, she said, "When my children and I decided to attend Church, I realized that unity in the home is a source of combined power. My family has been supportive.
"Now, I am very seriously considering what I'd like to do for Okinawa. I want to do what God would have me do, even though some might think the way is long."
There are those who want to introduce casinos onto the islands in order to increase tourism, jobs and revenue. Sister Itokazu has stated, "We don't need a place where you can get money without working and where crime follows."
Her heart is with the children of Okinawa. She has concerns about education, but her dream is to have a children's hospital built for the islands by April 2006. Construction has already begun. Compared to the rest of Japan, the islands' birth rate is high but so is the islands' infant mortality rate. Elder Morris and Sister Janis Sterrett, Asia North Area public affairs missionaries